Sunday, January 19, 2020

REVIEW: 'Avenue 5' - A Tragic Accident Throws the Ship Wildly Off Course and Extends Its Journey in 'I Was Flying'

HBO's Avenue 5 - Episode 1.01 "I Was Flying"

When a malfunction occurs aboard the luxury space cruise ship Avenue 5, it's up to engineer Billie McEvoy to warn Captain Ryan Clark, Avenue 5 owner Herman Judd and his right-hand woman Iris Kimura that the incident may have a cataclysmic knock-on effect. As Rav Mulcair manages the situation from mission control back on Earth, Matt Spencer tries his best to calm frayed nerves on board, and persistent passenger Karen Kelly discovers the crew may know more than they're letting on.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of HBO's Avenue 5.

"I Was Flying" was directed by Armando Iannucci with story by Armando Iannucci and teleplay by Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell & Tony Roche

Expectations are understandably set insanely high for HBO's Avenue 5 - the first television series created by Armando Iannucci since he left the Emmy-winning Veep after its fourth season. He has since created a number of intriguing feature films. And now, he returns to prestige television to present a new group of seemingly inept people dealing with a set of tragedies from a place of power. This premiere has a lot of heavy lifting to do right away in setting up its broad set of characters and the disaster that seals their fates for the next few years of their lives. An explanation isn't given as to how the title ship reversed its gravity and thus knocked itself off course. That means the eight week voyage around Saturn will now take three years in order to get its crew and passengers back home. That's absolutely terrifying. It's not what anyone was prepared for. As such, the panic is real and understandable. However, this premiere seems much more interested in pointing out how, even forty years in the future, white men are frequently given positions of power or a wealth of opportunities even though they clearly don't deserve it. That is obvious right away for a character like Herman Judd, the billionaire who owns the ship. Right away, he presents as a guy trying to copy the success of others but being completely clueless about any of the science or technology that makes such a journey possible in the first place. This same mentality extends to Matt Spencer, who is in charge of customer relations. He is an absolute nihilistic who doesn't know how to calm the passengers down after this inexplicable tragedy because it's so afar of his normal wheelhouse of experiences on the ship. And finally, the big reveal of the premiere is that the captain, Ryan Clark, is nothing more than a figurehead as well. He was cast in the role simply because people instinctively trust a white American more than someone who has actually earned the accomplishment of being a hero. Billie is the British engineer who understands what has just happened and how to explain it to everyone else in the secure room trying to get their bearings on the situation. Rav is in a similar position as the head of mission control back on Earth. She doesn't want to be showing off her base of operations to a group of visiting children. That is an annoyance to her. But she has to speak up when this issue is first created. Her task has just gotten much more difficult. There is the hope and reassurance that Billie, Rav and Judd's right-hand woman Iris have the expertise necessary in order to sail this ship safely back to Earth. That isn't a guarantee though. It's significant that they are all women of color. They have proven their worth but still have to fight an uphill battle to be given a shred of respect that is just handled to their white male counterparts. Passenger Karen Kelly operates with the same sense of entitlement. She is used to being able to bully her way into anywhere. Sure, she has regrets when she does so. She wants to get out of the secure room as soon as she realizes that the voyage will now go on for three years. She immediately panics the rest of the passengers too. She sees value in providing this information to them. She is more honest than the rest of the crew. All of this goes for absurdity in order to prove just how insane all of this may come across if the future technology allows it. It may be a dire warning of the potential consequences of projecting responsibility onto someone who doesn't deserve it. Of course, the characters of Veep constantly wielded power despite being completely inept. They even succeeded in those roles. As such, Iannucci has proven that he too can be searing with his contempt for the ways in which society has built up its structures. Right now though, the show has to establish what is possible in this form of the future. That makes it a little more difficult to buy into the grand twists and the precise character details. Hugh Laurie leads an insanely talented and hilarious cast. It's especially great that he gets to use his natural accent while also playing American to certain people as well. However, it still feels like a broad collection of character tropes reacting to a bad situation instead of a story that has a distinct rhythm and purpose to it all.